joanna.quest

Exhibition Review

Emily Cardboard by Emily Hanson and Carmen-Sibha Keiso at Hyacinth (2023)
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“At the time of filming, wayward artists and fashionable dilettantes were eligible for a $750USD weekly stipend as part of the US Government’s pandemic unemployment assistance program, a once-in-a-lifetime funding opportunity that could support artmaking, if only within the narrow confines of your apartment and permissible open air settings. Taking photos of yourself became state-funded autofictional bedroom art, which Hanson excels at in this work with Keiso as her accomplice and enabler. At the time, plague-induced indie sleaze nostalgia had piqued a renewed enthusiasm for the first generation of internet It girls, and a host of aspiring party girls began modelling themselves as copycat Cat Marnells and Cory Kennedys, while the real Cat and Cory were getting off drugs and writing memoirs. As she lounges in bed wearing tabi booties or looks out, pantsless, over a Brooklyn rooftop, Hanson seems to have all the factors that combine to make a girl It: being physically modelesque, nonpareil personal style that walks the line between unflattering and hot, and the right amount of aloofness. Emily Cardboard seems to document a sort of slouching towards It-girl-dom, where the girls’ attitude towards It is shot through with both satirical embrace and sincere refusal.”

Exhibition Text

Flatways by Jordan Halsall at ReadingRoom (2023)
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“I feel that, over the years, I have been tricked into seeing capitalism not as a Being with the capacity to suffer, a more than human assemblage equally deserving of non-anthropomorphising empathy as the rather more fashionable slime mould or rhizomes, but as an insensate set of rules working towards a certain outcome. I became suspicious of this account once I realised that my sense of the outcome seemed to change as my luck and income did. If ever I was doing badly, I thought: We are all hurtling towards doom. Then I would be doing a lot better, like one or two figures better, and I would think: Everything according to plan. This is the greatest time to be alive and it is only getting more great. Then it would be revealed to me that thinking such things is a low interest rate phenomenon. My life would get a little worse but not as bad as before and I’d become quite ambivalent about the whole thing: Is it both at once? We are hurtling towards doom, yes, but it’s simply a matter of death and rebirth? Just a few more civilisational collapses and up only after that? The optical illusion of progress, whether good, bad, or cyclical, hinges on the conflation of motion with direction.”

Case Studies

Decentralized Data Governance: A Pattern Library, with Kelsie Nabben (2023)
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“Just as a software design pattern is a general, reproducible solution to a commonly occurring problem within a given context in software design, an institutional infrastructure pattern is an organisations that is reproducible. Institutional infrastructure is the mechanisms that set the boundaries of social behaviours, coordination, and governance in relation to a protocol. This is what this library presents, in relation to IPFS. The aim of this library is to demonstrate how people can compose technical protocols and social patterns into complex, socio-technical systems that are resilient for those that use them.”

Essay

The Self-doxxed and the Truly Sorry: Accountability After Identity, Zora Zine (2022)
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“No matter whether it’s your government name or a persistent pseudonym that is taking the damage, any project founder that is the least bit brazen may simply choose to weather the public criticism and bad optics—they may even come out better on the other side, taking the position of the defiant, unapologetic underdog. Their public mistakes make them real, authentic, and relatable—who hasn’t made a few unscrupulous choices here and there, and does it really matter if they also did great things? They can pose as outcasts, enemies of the system, stoic victims of mob mentality who deserve a second chance precisely because they didn’t grovel or shrink with fear. (This type of public figure is typically well-received, even seductive, for many in crypto, and gels well with the culture’s libertarian, meritocratic leanings.) This effect is compounded by the fast news cycles (Twitter cycles?) that seem to wipe the slate clean every week, and the many bagholders so emotionally invested in projects and their mythologized founder figures that they will sooner defend them than endure the psychological distress of demanding consequences.”

Research Paper

Organizational Transformation for dYdX: Decentralization, Outsourcing and Venturing (2022)
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“In The Tyranny of Structurelessness, feminist writer Jo Freeman describes the way that loosely structured, informal and seemingly non-hierarchical organizational structures can actually serve as “a way of masking power” rather than evenly distributing it. In the context of a core team decentralizing into autonomous working groups, the challenge of hidden hierarchy takes the form of power structures that linger on after decentralization. For example, a founder or previous team leader may have stepped down from a position of authority officially as part of the decentralization, but the internal politics of the decentralized organization continues to revolve around them and the influence that they continue to wield. In some cases, this can be a useful, soft solution to resolve difficult conflicts as a last resort. In other cases, influential figures may abuse their power in ways that are disruptive to the normal functioning of the organization.”

Interview

Trust in Conversation with Serpentine Galleries, Novembre Magazine (2022)
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“The process of writing a new description for Trust was interesting. We decided to call it a “network of utopian conspirators, a sandbox for their creative, technical and critical projects, and a site of experimentation for new ways of learning together.” We’ve always benefited from some strategic vagueness, to give people the space to imagine and create the Trust they want. […] Events create social presence and accelerate processes of bonding. We invite members to host online events as a way of welcoming them into the community. Events relate to the channels, and by bringing a certain topic to an event dedicated to a given research channel, members shape the discourse in significant ways. Each person brings something different and experimental to the events, which are very open. This way, we build a shared language and set of ideas that continue to be developed over time.”

Research Paper

Effective Accountability for Uniswap Governance, with Laura Lotti (2022)
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“Importantly, as Buterin notes, no blockchain application can be fully trustless (given that they are always built by humans). Instead, trustlessness exists on a spectrum where “some applications are much closer to being trustless than others”. Conceptualizing trustlessness as a spectrum allows us to understand the mutually supportive relationship between accountability mechanisms of answerability and enforcement, and crypto-native, self-executing mechanisms: lower levels of trustlessness can be supported by higher levels of accountability; for situations where answerability and/or enforcement cannot be guaranteed, limited accountability mechanisms can be supported by more trustless designs. If full trustlessness is impossible, and accountability mechanisms will always be needed, it is vital that the crypto space develops a deeper understanding of the strengths of accountability mechanisms and how to appropriately apply them. In our enthusiasm for the potential of trust minimization, it is easy to overlook the fact that accountability mechanisms of answerability and enforcement can be both robust, but also flexible and adaptive in ways that hard-coded trust minimization mechanisms cannot be. At the same time, the problem space of on-chain mechanism design to reduce the burden on traditional accountability mechanisms is ripe for innovation.”

Interview

Hivemind: In the Backend’s Labyrinth, with Will Freudenheim and Calum Bowden, Spike (2022)
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“The argument that we're trying to make with Hivemind is that everything has a backend, or hidden social and infrastructural and technological components. And that these structures that are possibly even more important than the “frontend” interfaces through which we most often interact with the world. In the idea of the world being made up of objects, there's a purification of the production processes that go into creating any thing. This could also be called the fetish of the commodity, where production is no longer seen as a social endeavor and commodities themselves compete against each other. Production processes, and the ways in which people are involved in creating something, are rendered invisible and are no longer pertinent into the circulation of the thing itself. This is also about breaking away from traditional archival practices, and working with game formats as a way to share and document art (especially art made with technology) in a way that embraces the nonlinearity and knotted threads of creative process.”

Book Chapter

Inventing the End: On Growth and the Artist, in 2038: The New Serenity, Sorry Press (2021)
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“As one literary scholar put it, occupational alienation is: “that intriguing syndrome [that] occurs when one is so troubled by the awareness that what one does professionally may have very limited impact on the current political struggles that one begins to develop a self-defense mechanism which consists in believing something quite contrary, namely, that these professional activities have a profound value in this regard.” This mechanism, arguably the driving force behind the speculative turn, allowed the artist to protect her art from herself in the tumultuous years of uprisings and disaster. And while the entire world struggled in the birth pangs of another era, this same mechanism saw the artist enter the new world with her sense of self-importance not shaken in the slightest. Everything is just as she had imagined it would be, and it was precisely her imagining that had helped make it so in one inexplicable way or another, a sibyl that had harnessed the full power of the self-fulfilling prophecy with next to no effort.”

Essay

Romanticize Your Life, Feature in Tank Magazine, Narrative X Issue (2021)
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“An eagle attacking a drone against a cloudless sky; a faceless girl surrounded by plush toys and holding a shining kitchen knife; a dimly lit library interior that is entirely devoid of humans: so many images that others would find bewildering instead instil a sense of bored recognition that comes from having seen and interacted with countless others like them (perhaps even the very same ones) at some point in the past five to ten years. It lends a real clarity and certainty to how you sense and process the world around you, one that has in turn produced a new usage of the word “aesthetic”, transforming it from a noun with a lot of historical baggage to a user-friendly, catch-all adjective: “That is so aesthetic.” […] Perhaps all aesthetics exist as platonic forms in some higher realm, and members of online aesthetic subculture communities have found their calling in seeking out their imperfect, yet still beautiful, incarnations here on Earth.”

Essay

Text for Shirin Sabahi’s Plinth, Berlin Program for Artists Catalogue (2021)
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“Like many of its kind in Berlin, this Aufstockung does not draw attention to itself, or its position within the forces of financialized urbanization. Quite the opposite: it wants to blend in, and goes to great lengths to do so. By remaking the facade of an entire block in its own image, the new floor materializes inconspicuously above the eye level, as if it had been there all along. This disappearance plays out formally, but also at the level of numbers. Extending a building by a floor or two is statistically counted together with other conversion measures, such as filling up unused plots between buildings or converting attics to living spaces. In 2018, more than two-thousand of these measures were authorized in Berlin, but no city office can or will tell you how many conversions were of which kind, or how many were speculative investments that dramatically upended the lives of the tenants under.”

Essay

A Definition of Degrowth, Uneven Earth Glossary, with François Schneider (2020)
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“The idea of degrowth as a missile word, a stone thrown, helps us grasp the radical intent of those who use it as a slogan. But degrowth is not a singular missile. Rather, it has transformed, after nearly twenty years of discussion and activism, into an entire web of guerilla narratives. […] Rather than presenting a silver bullet solution, degrowth proposes a web of change across housing, urban planning, transport, agriculture, energy systems, money, redistributive taxation, biodiversity, supply chains, manufacturing, software, hardware and technology governance, employment and working conditions, welfare, healthcare, education, democracy and more. Together, these proposals can guide an equitable, planned downscaling of production and consumption. But these paths do not demand that we downscale everything. Rather, the task is to shrink some sectors, while simultaneously expanding and transforming others for the better, while the sum is a move to the reduction of material and energy flow and to simpler and more meaningful lives.”

Feature

Board Game for Class Warfare, with Simon Denny, Frieze Magazine (2020)
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“This unauthorized update of Class Struggle has 84 squares, each of which represents a step along a speculative path towards revolutionary confrontation between capitalists (blue) and the working class (pink). The potential strategic victories (‘assets’) and losses (‘debits’) faced by workers and capitalists have changed since 1978. We have updated some of the game’s squares to reflect new actors, sites of conflict and axes of struggle. However, we have left the board’s more prescient squares – such as ‘Capitalists control congress’ or ‘COLD FEET: Miss as many turns as you have allies’ – untouched. Class Struggle is also punctuated with Chance squares, renamed ‘Crisitunity’ in our version – a neologism combining ‘crisis’ with ‘opportunity’. Landing on a Crisitunity square sees players confronted with one of six anthropogenic disasters, such as a flood or epidemic. These systemic shocks can drive society into crisis, erasing gains made by capitalists and workers in their respective struggles. Or, players can use these events to their advantage, taking them as an opportunity to further their mission.”

Interview

How Does Electronic Music Respond to Climate Change?, Electronic Beats Magazine (2020)
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“Much of Pope’s work concerns itself with the emerging concept of dual anti-consumerism and anti-capitalism, known as degrowth. Her record, which was released in December on Tobago Tracks, presents her emotional impulse and sort of a sentimental ode to diminishing natural resources. The work layers airy vocals over rolling kick drums and modest melodies, through three tracks titled “Terraforming Accident”, “Angels of Growth”, and “World Society 2”—each referring to the phrases that stuck out to her during her research on alternative economic models for degrowth and eco-futurity. Even though her own work contends with eco-anxieties, Pope isn’t convinced about artists using aesthetics to address environmental issues as a sort of topical, yet passing trend. ‘Nobody should feel obliged to address climate change through their art or aesthetic theories, or even to try very hard to make art about climate change in some conceptual way,’ she insists. ‘People should have the option to also learn about, develop and work on ways to fight climate change and capitalism, and separately pursue their creative interests.’”

Lecture

A Pessimist’s Utopia, Trust (2019)
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“A high-production, high-consumption future, fully automated luxury communism relies on the assumption that economic growth can be absolutely, permanently, globally and rapidly decoupled from the immense environmental pressures it creates. Attempting to reconcile FALC with the harsh reality that such eco-economic decoupling is not possible is depressing—it seems we will reach ecological collapse before we can secure luxury for all. And yet, beneath FALC’s techno-optimistic surface lies a pessimism that runs deeper than any bleak eco-economic critique of its utopia, namely, the assumption that downscaling production and consumption is not an option. This talk shows that FALC’s post-work, post-scarcity and post-precarity world is achievable via a different set of transformational pathways currently being developed within the degrowth movement, and secondly that FALC’s urgent proposals for near-term political change in the fight against neoliberalism actually facilitate the shift towards a flourishing post-growth economy with wellbeing at its center.”

Lecture

Strategy without Strategizer?, Trust (2019)
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“Left accelerationism models itself as a movement ‘at ease with complexity’—not only in its embrace of sophisticated techno-futures, but also in its philosophy of political strategy. In this way, left accelerationism defines itself in opposition to both locally-oriented “folk politics” and the machinic linearity of Landian right accelerationism. By opening up to the possibilities of positive feedback loops and processes of emergence seen in complex social and ecological systems, left accelerationism seeks to engage in a war of position with neoliberalism, building a counterhegemony that expands its influence in a partially autonomous manner—in this way winning the leverage and support needed to accelerate towards a fully automated post-work utopia. But left accelerationists are not alone in these efforts. Degrowth has long been in the trenches of this war, emerging as its own counterhegemonic force comprised of diverse actors, networks and narratives shifting the Overton window on social and ecological limits to capitalism and possible post-growth futures beyond it. This talk will map the affinities between left accelerationist and degrowth theories and methods of partially autonomous counterhegemony, before asking: Which movement is in a better position to realize an impactful left politics?”

Lecture

Compass for Utopian Synthesis, Trust (2019)
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“Utopian thinking may protect degrowth and L/Acc from the accusations of ailing political imaginations hurled at other sections of the post-Occupy Left. But it cannot protect either movement from straw man attacks that twist each sincere, careful proposal into nothing other than the undesirable futures (austerity, capitalist assimilation, fascism, collapse) that lurk in adjacent timelines, just a few squares over in the 4x4 compass of possible worlds. At the same time, the slippery nominal approximations of post-work, post-scarcity and post-growth societies that populate these compasses point to broader difficulties in developing political fantasies that do more than affirm existing anxieties within the framework of additive avatar politics (pick a future, choose your fighter, tag yourself, etc.) This talk proposes variations on the accelerationism compass that increase its expository utility in space and time while retaining its speculative character for risk-conscious utopian thinking.“
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